I found the tenor of this Scott Lauber write-up out of Philadelphia to be pretty interesting for all its emphasis that the Phillies were done making big financial commitments this offseason (notable, on its own, for any Josh-Donaldson-related implications), but not necessarily out on a particular trade target.
I wasn’t aware that the Phillies were among the many clubs aiming (sigh) to stay under the luxury tax, but apparently they are: “For now, though, the Phillies intend to stay below the $208 million bar. And once this week’s agreement with free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius is finalized, they will be roughly $6 million short of that mark. Barring a surprise intervention from Middleton, then, the Phillies’ heaviest offseason lifting is finished.”
So, then, no additional big contracts for a team that added Gregorius and Zack Wheeler to their 81-win group, which also overhauled their coaching staff. Enough to be competitive in the very good NL East? Sure, maybe so. Andrew McCutchen could come back healthy and strong. Jake Arrieta might do the same. Bryce Harper is capable of a monster season. JT Realmuto is a stud. They’ve got the roster of a team that might be pretty good, or might float around .500 again.
Frankly, I’m not all about evaluating the Phillies’ chances of success as currently constructed. I am just saying, I see how they could easily use another piece. But if they’re tapped out on payroll, and if there are no takers out there for Jay Bruce or Jean Segura, then, as Lauber wrote, they’re probably done.
… which is what made this concluding section stick out to me so much:
“Now that Rendon is an Angel, Josh Donaldson will soon sign with the Nationals … or the Braves … or the Rangers. Regardless, there’s about to be a loser in the game of musical third basemen.
That’s where Bryant comes in.
The Cubs want to clear payroll space and appear unlikely to agree on an extension with the 2016 NL MVP. They surely will want a haul of prospects and big leaguers, and a ruling on whether Bryant is eligible for free agency after 2020 or the following year isn’t expected for weeks.
The Phillies have run from trade talks involving third-base prospect Alec Bohm. Getting Bryant also would push them into luxury-tax territory. But Middleton loves superstars, and Bryant is pals with Harper. So, until he’s dealt to another third base-needy team, Phillies fans might as well stay tuned.”
So, the Phillies are probably tapped out on cash and they’re probably done … except maybe not for Bryant, specifically? Kind of a weird and particular exclusion, no? I’ll try not to get any more conspiratorial than I’ve already been about the various leaks and rumors and pushback and gamesmanship going on, but it definitely strikes me as odd that Bryant is carved out like this.
As we’ve discussed, the Phillies aren’t a great match for the Cubs in a Bryant trade, and they extremely aren’t a great match if they’re not willing to talk about top third base prospect Alec Bohm or top pitching prospect Spencer Howard.
In any case, should the Cubs wind up marketing Bryant to the Josh Donaldson losers to see if a monster offer is out there, all the better that the Phillies would still be in the mix. Maybe the fit works, maybe it doesn’t. But you want as many teams at the table as possible – especially if three of them are competing in the same division.